Has Bozeman, Montana Gone To Far? Requiring Access to Social Network Sites Can Open up a Pandora's Box of Legal Issues

According to a story published online by the Christian Science Monitor, the City of Bozeman, Montana has “requested that candidates provide their username and passwords for social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The application asks that candidates “list any and all current personal or business Web sites, web pages, or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs, or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.” http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/06/19/montana-job-seekers-asked-for-facebook-myspace-logins/#comment-10827.

Although this is an evolving area of law, the City needs to tread very carefully in this area.  First and foremost, they are opening themselves up to discrimination claims if the social network site reveals an applicant’s membership in a protected group, such as race, nationality, ethnicity, religious afflation, marital status, physical condition, etc. This is especially an issue when asking for this information in the application stage where there can be an inference that such factors were used illegally to screen out candidates on the basis of their membership in a protected class. Even assuming that a review of such sites may be relevant to the job, it is best done later in the hiring process, so applicants can be assured they were considered fairly, before the City goes looking at private sites. The City should also formulate clear policies and procedures to ensure they are looking for factors that are valid predictors of job performance.  

There are a number of other issues as well to consider. For an examination of some of the reasons the use of social network site can be dangerous, see the following ESR article:  http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/Caution-Using-Search-Engines-MySpace-or-Facebook-for-Hiring-Decisions-May-Be-Hazardous-to-Your-Business.php.

Update:  According to the latest news information, the City of Boozeman has dropped this requirement due to negative reactions. However, this blog post will remain since this is an ongoing issue.